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Physiotherapy-as-first-point-of-contact-service for patients with musculoskeletal complaints: understanding the challenges of implementation

  • Fiona Moffatt (a1), Rob Goodwin (a2) and Paul Hendrick (a1)
Abstract
Background

Primary care faces unprecedented challenges. A move towards a more comprehensive, multi-disciplinary service delivery model has been proposed as a means with which to secure more sustainable services for the future. One seemingly promising response has been the implementation of physiotherapy self-referral schemes, however there is a significant gap in the literature regarding implementation.

Aim

This evaluation aimed to explore how the professionals and practice staff involved in the delivery of an in-practice physiotherapy self-referral scheme understood the service, with a focus on perceptions of value, barriers and impact.

Design and setting

A qualitative evaluation was conducted across two UK city centre practices that had elected to participate in a pilot self-referral scheme offering ‘physiotherapy-as-a-first-point-of-contact’ for patients presenting with a musculoskeletal complaint.

Methods

Individual and focus group interviews were conducted amongst participating physiotherapists, administration/reception staff, general practitioners (GPs) and one practice nurse (in their capacity as practice partner). Interview data were collected from a total of 14 individuals. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results

Three key themes were highlighted by this evaluation. First, the imperative of effecting a cultural change – including management of patient expectation with particular reference to the belief that GPs represented the ‘legitimate choice’, re-visioning contemporary primary care as a genuine team approach, and the physiotherapists’ reconceptualisation of their role and practices. Second, the impact of the service on working practice across all stakeholders – specifically re-distribution of work to ‘unburden’ the GP, and the critical role of administration staff. Finally, beliefs regarding the nature and benefits of physiotherapeutic musculoskeletal expertise – fears regarding physiotherapists’ ability to work autonomously or identify ‘red flags’ were unfounded.

Conclusion

This qualitative evaluation draws on the themes to propose five key lessons which may be significant in predicting the success of implementing physiotherapy self-referral schemes.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Correspondence to: Dr Fiona Moffatt, Assistant Professor, Division of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, School of Health Sciences, The University of Nottingham, B80 Clinical Sciences Building, City Hospital Campus, Nottingham, NG5 1PB, UK. Email: fiona.moffatt@nottingham.ac.uk
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Primary Health Care Research & Development
  • ISSN: 1463-4236
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